By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- New-. that will be the word often associated with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire football team this season. With new Head Coach Dan Larson at the helm, new uniforms, and plenty of new faces, it's clear that a new era of Blugold football has begun.
Dan Larson will be the first to say that the past is in the past. There has been a new energy surrounding the team at practices, and there is plenty to be excited about for the upcoming season. The Blugolds will be looking for younger players to step up on the offensive line after losing a number of starters, including standout Isiah Cage to the NFL.
Eau Claire does have a number of notable returning players on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback JT Denhartog (So. - Hopkins, MN), Junior running back Gerald Childs (Jr.-Brookfield, WI/East), and wide receiver Matt Knapp Sr. – Eau Claire, WI/Memorial), who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Blugolds will return All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) honorable mention linebacker Kaeleb Stangler (Jr.-Rochester, MN/John Marshall). Alongside Stangler, Eau Claire also returns linebacker Carl Lightfoot (Jr.-Chicago, IL/Hinsdale), who led the team in fumble recoveries and was tied for the team lead in sacks. New defensive coordinator Matt Ebner will look to senior cornerback Bo Casper (Sr.-Freedom, WI) and junior defensive back Dillon Kempen (Jr.-Suring, WI) to be the leaders of the secondary and of the defense. Overall, Eau Claire lost four starters on both sides of the ball, leaving plenty of opportunity for younger players to make their mark.
Scouting the opponent:
UW-Eau Claire will again start the season taking on the University of St. Thomas. Last year, the Blugolds struggled to find their rhythm against the eventual 2015 national runner-up, falling 62-7. Eau Claire showed some growing pains last season, but continued to improve with each game. The Blugolds will look to be more competitive in 2016 as they take on the tough St. Thomas in an effort to prepare for the likes of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Fourth-ranked St. Thomas (14-1 last year) returns five on offense and seven defensive starters, which includes All-Americans, linebacker Jesse Addo and defensive lineman Ryan Winter.
On the offensive side, the Tommies will return All-American Honorable Mention offensive lineman Will Hilbert and All-American running back Jordan Roberts, who had 63 yards and two touchdowns against the Blugolds last year. The Tommies will have a new quarterback this season, which could be senior Alex Fenske or one of two Division I transfers.
Keys to the game:
-Limit the turnovers. Last season, the Blugolds turned the ball over four times against the Tommies including a heartbreaking 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
-Get the run game going. Quarterback JT Denhartog was at his best when he was able to run, and when the run opened up the passing game, the Blugold offense thrived.
-The battle of the undefeated. New head coach Dan Larson (0-0) is just beginning his tenure as Blugold head coach, and his first test is a good one. St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso is 8-0 in season-openers and 16-0 in regular season non-conference games.
Follow the action for all sports this season on Blugold Game Day.